Landlords will be legally obliged to carry out compulsory checks on their tenant's immigration status under a new "right to rent" process beginning February 1, 2016. The scheme, which has been attacked by the opposition as a return to the "no dogs, no Irish, no blacks" signs seen in boarding house windows 50 years ago, is part of the government's attempts to "create a hostile environment for illegal migrants". With plans to roll the scheme out nationwide in February, and hefty fines for landlords who fail to participate, here are five things you need to know about "right to rent".
1 - Many landlords are carrying out the checks already and they're quick and easy, according to those in charge of implementation.
Immigration minister, James Brokenshire, was quick to respond to the policy's critics, saying:
"Right to rent checks are quick and simple, and many responsible landlords already do them as a matter of routine.
We are providing landlords in England with all the advice and support they need before the checks go live on 1 February 2016. Right to rent is about deterring those who are illegally resident from remaining in the UK. Those with a legitimate right to be here will be able to prove this easily and will not be adversely affected."
2 - Or will they . . . ? Already concerns are being raised about those with foreign sounding names being discriminated against, once the new rules come into effect. A "mystery shopper" exercise carried out as part of an official evaluation into the process discovered that in several instances the mystery shoppers from ethnic minorities were asked to provide much more information than potential white tenants and those with more anglicised names. Homeless shelter Crisis has also expressed serious apprehension that the more complicated procedures may make it harder for homeless people to find a place to live.
3 - Right to rent is actually already in effect in some areas, so if you own tenanted property in Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley or Wolverhampton, you need to act quickly to make sure you've performed the checks on your tenants, as per the legislation. Landlords can be fined up to £3,000 for renting a property to a tenant who isn't legally allowed to be in the UK, so it's important to get moving.
4 - So how do you actually make a check? In order to comply with "right to rent" tenant checks you need to:
a - Check which adults will be living at your property, and make sure that it's their main home. If it's their main home, the majority of their belongings should be there, and you would expect them to have registered with the local doctor and have recorded your property as their primary residence on the electoral register.
b - Ask to see the original documents that allow the tenant to live in the UK. Copies are not sufficient. It goes without saying that you should check them thoroughly, and ensure that the dates on the documents haven't expired, the photos match the tenants and that they don't look damaged or tampered with.
c - Make your own copies of these documents and keep them safe. You should also record the date that you make the check. As with all things in the property world, effective record-keeping will save you a lot of time and heartache down the road.
5 - Some types of property will be excluded under the scheme. For a comprehensive list see gov.uk/check-tenant-right-to-rent-documents The types of residential tenancy agreements that are exempt from the scheme are still being finalised but so far include:
a - Accommodation involving social housing
b - Social housing
c - Student housing
The decision to implement the scheme follows the official evaluation of the pilot scheme carried out in the West Midlands, which concluded that, despite the issues about discrimination that were raised, there were "no major differences" between the final outcome between white potential tenants and those of other ethnicities in their search to find somewhere to live.
Those in any doubt as to what they need to do to comply should check gov.uk/check-tenant-right-to-rent-documents